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Column originally published Sep 20, 2005
Column last revised/updated on Sep 3, 2018

Television In Children’s Bedroom Can Harm Their Learning

Question: I have been an educator for the last 26 years. I have seen many children who struggles everyday to learn in school. Many of them turn out to have a television set in their bedroom. I have always wondered whether there is a relationship between the bedroom TV and these children’s difficulties. Recently I read about a study which showed that having a TV in a child’s bedroom can negatively affect his/her learning. Since we are beginning a new school year, I hope you can inform parents about the finding of this study, and help these children.


Thank you for bringing this topic to my attention. Your letter tells me that you are a caring and dedicated teacher. We are so fortunate to have someone like yourself in the education system.

The study that you referred to was conducted by scientists from Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University in United States, and was published recently in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

In this study, researchers surveyed about 350 third grade students at six public elementary schools in northern California in year 2000. They found that more than 70% of these students have a television set in their bedroom.

When these students were tested on mathematics, reading, and language arts skills, those who have TV in their bedroom scored lower than those without a personal television set. The ones that scored the highest were those who have no bedroom TV, but have computer access to do homework and study.

Although research like this cannot determine the reason why these children perform less well in standardized tests, one can still make some connection through experience. It has been known that children who have TV in their bedroom generally sleep less at night, because they watch television when they are supposed to be sleeping.

Many parents who decided to put a television in a child’s bedroom thought that they can always tell if their child watches TV at night, when they are not supposed to. However, the fact is that children are tempted to turn on the television when the parents are sleeping: this is the psychology of doing something that is forbidden. I don’t mean that every child would do it, or do it every night; but many children, when given the opportunity, will try some of the time.

As expected, when children watches television late into the night, they don’t get enough sleep, and they won’t do as well in school. It is harder for a sleep-deprived child to pay attention in class, and absorb new ideas and concepts as well as the rest of the children. It is no wonder that these children struggle to learn in school, as you have observed from your many years of experience as an educator.

Another concern that needs to be raised is the programs that these children are watching in their bedroom. Many homes are now connected with cable or satellite, with hundreds of channels to choose from. Some parents may be able to block off certain channels with contents that are inappropriate for their children, however, many parents are less knowledgeable about this, and their children may watch programs that are totally inappropriate for their age or maturity.

It is not only the programs that we should be concerned about. Advertising agencies are very good in doing marketing research, and they know which programs children of different ages would like to watch. As a result, they target their commercial during certain programs to maximize the impact. As these children watch in their bedroom, parents would have no opportunity to discuss with their children about the programs or the commercial that they see.

Children watching television in their bedroom also miss the opportunity of learning some important social skills: patience and negotiation. Instead of waiting for their turn to watch a favourite program, or negotiate with other siblings to decide which program that they can all watch together in the family room, these children just leave the rest of the family and go to the bedroom to turn on their private television. Some of these social skills are best learned at home. Watching television in the bedroom would not promote such learning.

Finally, we all know too well about the epidemic of overweight and obesity that is fast progressing all through North America and the rest of developed and developing world. Research has clearly shown that there is a direct link between lack of physical activity and excessive weight gain. Television not only keeps a person sitting, eating snack food loaded with sugar and calories (and often salt), adds to the caloric imbalance. It is no surprise that there are more and more children with weight problem.

I strongly suggest that parents should resist their children’s nagging and promises when it comes to bedroom television. Although TVs are getting cheaper and better, you may get into more trouble than you bargain for. For sure your child will promise never to watch television at night, and ask for your permission regarding which program to watch. However, the reality is this: once the television is in the child’s bedroom, it is difficult, if not impossible, to patrol when and what the child can watch. Trying to control this after the fact would cause more family conflict than not allowing the television in the child’s bedroom to begin with.

Another related item that parents should not allow in a child’s bedroom is the computer, especially if it has internet connection. Computer and internet have revolutionized many aspects of life in our society. However, harmful things are cropping up all the time through the internet. Many parents have heard about the danger of allowing children to chat with strangers in chat rooms. A more recent addition to the long list of dangers is bullying through the internet, which is just as harmful as other forms of bullying.

Spending excessive time on the computer playing games or chatting with friends can affect academic performance also. Instead of putting the computer in the bedroom, it should be in a common area of the house where parents can supervise what their children are doing (or not doing).

[Note to Readers: As society changes, I need to update this column, and warn about having smartphones, tablets, and similar portable electronics in children’s bedroom.  They can cause more harm than you can imagine.  Make sure these portable units are turned off, and stay in parents’ bedroom for overnight charging; this will prevent these units from being used at night by children and teenagers.]